Published: 30/01/2003, Volume II3, No. 5840 Page 2

Becky Jones sounds a timely warning about the professionals taking over public and patient participation (first person, 16 January). But the picture nationally may not be as bleak as her personal account suggests. At least 133 primary care trusts are already taking part in exactly the kind of voyage of discovery about themselves and their relationships with the patients and communities they serve that she seems to be calling for, through the engaging communities learning network. This is a project of the national primary and care trust development programme. From the start, network members have emphasised the need for people in PCTs to learn to listen, and make a personal engagement. A number of the original pilot sites spent the first 15 months of the project involving local people in the development of their involvement strategies - demonstrating that this was no paper managerial exercise.

The network is exploring practical methods for getting genuine involvement from the whole range of the public, as well as from the usual suspects.

National and regional meetings are busy with exchanges of practical experience. For example, one PCT is offering information about 'a training programme run by locals/lay people for professionals'; another needs help in 'involving young people in clinical governance development'.

These are not tasks for the faint-hearted, nor exercises to serve the interests of bureaucrats.

We are about to publish a set of challenging learning materials drawn from the experiences of the network in an interactive fortnightly series on the NatPaCT website (www. natpact. nhs. uk); readers will already find accounts of the network's work to date there. There is undoubtedly a great deal more to be done, but in many PCTs there is a profound commitment to greater openness, and a growing expertise in managing responsive and effective public services.

John Callaghan Communications manager National primary and care trust development programme